Russia’s 737 MAX Alternative: The MC-21-300 Resumes Flight Testing

On Wednesday, United Aircraft Russia announced that it had resumed the test-flight program for its MC-21-300 aircraft after a pause to calibrate operations in compliance with coronavirus measures. The Russian manufacturer’s alternative to Boeing’s 737 MAX has now completed almost half of the flights needed to secure certification.

The MC-21-300 has resumed test flights. Photo: Getty Images

A little more than half-way left

After a break in its test-flight schedule, the Irkut MC-21-300 once more took to the skies from the Gromov Flight Research Institute 40 km outside of Moscow on Monday. The plane’s manufacturer, United Aircraft Russia, said that the tests had been interrupted for a brief time because of “the government’s recommendations to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

Having tweaked its operations with remote working (not for the pilots) and schedules for main program tasks, it once more has the twin-engine back in the air. It hopes for tests to be completed by the end of the year, and to roll out its first jet in Aeroflot livery by 2021.

Four aircraft are participating in the trials. Together they have now completed a little over 300 flights out of the 650 needed for Russian certification. So far, there are 174 orders for the model from 14 airlines.

The fourth MC-21 joined the test program in December 2019. Photo: Dmitry Tereshov via Wikimedia Commons

Tests performed

It may require another 350 or so flights under its belt before the model will be certified for commercial production, but UAC Russia is optimistic about the progress it is making.

In a statement released Wednesday, the manufacturer said it has stepped up the frequency of test flights for the model since the beginning of 2020, and that new systems allow it to measure up to 40,000 in-flight parameters.

The aircraft has performed flights at altitudes and speeds characteristic of commercial flight. Specifically, the flights have focused on testing extreme angles of attack and flutter tests. The test pilots have also carried out various engine assessments, and take-offs and landings with simulated engine failure.

The airplane’s instrument landing system, ILS, as well as its navigational systems, landing equipment, and external lighting have all been evaluated with night-time test-flights.

Furthermore, UAC Russia said that each plane had been manufactured taking previous test-flight results into account and that it had improved several systems. It also said that it is focusing “significant efforts” on software development and testing.

Aviadvigatel PD-14
The Russian-made Aviadvigatel PD-14 is the second engine option for the MC-21. Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin via Wikimedia Commons

Participating planes

According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the four aircraft that are being used for the test flights look slightly different on the inside. Two of them have already been equipped with proper passenger cabins. One in a two-class configuration based on 163 seats, and one with an all-economy 211 seat layout.

The very first Irkut MC-21-300 rolled out of the factory in the Siberian city of Irkutsk on the 8th of June 2016, and it was first airborne on the 28th of May 2017. This after a significant delay, as UAC initially intended to introduce the plane in 2012. The fourth was introduced to the test program on the 25th of December last year.

All of the MC-21s in the air so far are powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1400G engines. However, Irkut is completing the first of the model fitted with Aviadvigatel PD-14. The locally-made turbofans will be a second engine option for the aircraft.

With so many orders for the 737 MAX canceled, what do you think of the potential for the Russian-built medium-haul liner? How will Russia’s aircraft industry weather the coronavirus-crisis? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.